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Napster Launches Business Model 3.0

In the past decade, Napster has worn many masks. It began life as a free, peer-to-peer service that brought you all the music you could take, quickly found itself a lawsuit target, then emerged from legal oblivion as a hubris-ridden iTunes Store competitor. And after years of mediocre results in those identities, it's relaunched itself yet again--now as a hubris-ridden Amazon competitor.

Although its earlier "Napster To Go" music-rental service lingers on (see my earlier dismissal of it), the store half of the site has ditched copy-restricted Windows Media downloads for a catalogue of 6 million MP3 files without any usage restrictions, that should work in any music program or player.

Napster, however, comes to the MP3-sale business well after such larger competitors as Amazon (perhaps you've heard of that store by now?), and its implementation seems to have some issues:

* Its Web site is slow to load and doesn't work in Apple's Safari browser. A company that's stumbled as often as Napster is in no position to turn away would-be customers!

* Its interface, apparently modeled after the Napster store's old and unlamented software, hides prices behind tool tips that appear if you float the cursor over or click on a little "MP3" icon next to a song or album.

* At 99 cents a track and $9.95 an album, those prices exceed Amazon's in many cases (here's my review of Amazon's MP3 store).

I can't say I'm in awe of this company's latest venture. And you? ("Napster who?" is a fair response to that question.)

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 21, 2008; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Music  
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Napster's been around for, what, 10 years? Has this stupid company ever turned a profit?

Enough, sell off the assetts and move on.

Posted by: Inverse137 | May 21, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, with iTunes and Amazon, why would you need a third or fourth option? (Unless you want odd ball stuff; then use eMusic).
Whatever complaints anyone may have with iTunes, there still is no simpler way to buy music. Amazon is a little more involved. Prices? I'm 50+ and don't live in a city (with stores convenient to me). A buck or two more per album from iTunes doesn't matter. OR, I just order the complete physical CD from Amazon itself (with free shipping).
And as to DRM, we're an eight iPod family, so what difference does DRM make? The few times it does matter, burning a physical CD lets you get around it.

Posted by: Greg Jones | May 21, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Napster's subscription service is awesome. I have over 50GB of music that I have downloaded as part of my subscription, on my three computers and my three music players. Plus, they give you a Creative mp3 player when you sign up for a year. Sure the songs are rentals, but who cares? You get so much choice for just 15$/month! The deal is so amazing that I'll be a subscriber for as long as Napster offers the service. I have never discovered so much music than with Napster. Frankly, I don't understand those who spit on Napster because it doesn't work with their IPod. What do you want more: music, or design? I choose music. Anyone who loves music has got to at least try Napster.

Posted by: LB | May 21, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I like Napster's subscription model as well. I used it both in the $15/month "To Go" flavor when I had a Windows Mobile phone (with which it worked perfectly... might want to update that 2005-era review, Rob ;) and the $10/month normal one.

Pop music for better or worse today is a disposable commodity - and the few songs that aren't, I still will buy (physically). Until then, I'm happy to pay $10/month for everything at my fingertips.

There's simply no way I'll "buy" music per track with DRM, and that's currently Apple's model; Amazon has alternatives but not the selection. The day either lets me hit "shuffle" with a 6-million song playlist, maybe I'll switch.

Posted by: Ben | May 21, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I'll never rent music. You may have 50 gigs of music but as soon as you stop paying, poof it's gone. Between iTunes and amazon I'm happy. 85% of my music on my iPod are ripped from CDs. 10% is from iTunes then the following 5% from amazon. I can burn CDs for friends. I will take this music with me where ever I go. For other "disposable" stuff I listen to Pandora, which is by the far the best online streaming music site.

Posted by: Mike | May 21, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The search feature is bad. Why must I Google a lyric and then type in the song title? Why can't I just type in the lyric in Napster and be offered several exact title matches by several different artists?

The real key to the mp3 market is discounting and mark-ups. At 99 cents, the songs that are worth 98 cents won't sell and the songs worth a dollar fly off the shelves. Every content file has its equilibrium market price.

Posted by: Kacoo | May 21, 2008 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I too love Napster. I've been a subscriber for over three years and believe it's the best consumer value I know of. Most of the bashers don't seem to be very intelligent.

Posted by: wyly | May 21, 2008 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Who will use an iPod in the future? Now, you can use your mobile phone with MP3 files from Napster.

iTunes is not compatible with most mobile phones as Naster is. Only Napster has over the air downloads at AT&T, soon with MP3 files. The iPhone does not support over the air downloads from iTunes. In fact, iTunes does not support any mobile phone except the iPhone.

Neither iTunes nor Amazon has _all_ files as MP3.

You (with your iPods and iTunes) are living in the past. The future is music on mobile phones with MP3 - at the moment from Napster only. Why should anyone carry an iPod in addition to an mobile phone with him?

Posted by: Chris | May 22, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I know I'm late to this (wasn't able to see the postings in time), so this may be moot, but: what first drew me to Napster was the ability to play an ENTIRE track for free, up to 3 (originally 5) times. The standard 30-sec preview simply isn't enough for many songs. I liked being able to hear the whole thing before deciding whether to part with my money.

Posted by: JPDC | May 29, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

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